When you’re just getting started on writing your first book, it’s important to gain some perspective on what can feel like an overwhelming task – producing the first draft. When you’re a first-timer, you don’t have the hindsight that second-timers have. But this article will give you the inside scoop on what’s important when working on the first draft of your book.
A First Draft is a ROUGH Draft
The biggest secret you need to know is this: The most important thing about your first draft is completing it! The trap that so many first-time authors fall into is never finishing their first draft. Of course you want it to be perfect, but that’s exactly what will hold you back from the all-important task of just getting it done.
Ask any multi-book author about the difference between their experience of writing their first book and their second book. You’ll likely get an earful about all the things they wish they had done differently on their first book. A common theme among many of them is how they got bogged down trying to perfect their first draft. They come to learn that it’s more important to finish that first draft. Why? Because the purpose of a first draft is to get feedback on how you can improve what you have in the next version.
In fact, there are many who will tell you that a book really isn’t written at all. It’s rewritten. It’s the revising and rewriting where the magic happens. You have to view your first draft for what it is – a ROUGH draft of your manuscript. It doesn’t have to be perfect, and it won’t be perfect. That’s the whole point. But until you finish it, you won’t be able to get the critical feedback you need in order to make it better.
The temptation to keep tinkering on a first draft is strong. After all, you want to be proud of your book, right? Don’t worry, you’ll get there, but it’s unrealistic to think you’ll get there on your first round of writing. What you should be most proud of in these early stages is finishing your first draft. You’ll be proud of your book later, after it’s gone through many rounds of rewriting based on the feedback you get from early readers.
If you’re struggling to finish your first draft, it can help to line up one or more “accountability partners” to help keep you going. When you know someone is right there with you along the way, and looking forward to reading your first draft, it can help spur you on to get the job done.
Find Your Alpha Reader
Because the whole point of producing a first draft is to get feedback on it that will help you revise your work and improve it, one of the most important things you need to do early on is figure out who is going to be your alpha reader. This will be the very first person to read your work. You can set up this relationship in a way that helps you keep making progress on your book. For example, you might set deadlines for sending chunks of your first draft to your alpha reader to help keep you on task. You can also wait until your first draft is complete and you’ve put it through at least one round of self-editing.
Who should be your alpha reader? You want to find someone who will be both honest but gentle as they react to your writing. It should be someone close to you who you trust and who will encourage you to keep moving forward. You’ll make it clear that what they will be reading is very rough, but you’re looking for early feedback on how the book can be improved. What’s working well? What’s not working well? Is the overall structure good? Are there glaring plot gaps or inconsistencies? It’s not about copy editing or proofreading – that comes later in the process. This is about the overall integrity of the work.
What you do with this feedback is up to you, but do give it careful consideration. Don’t be too proud to accept good feedback. Don’t take criticism personally. Don’t be defensive. Gratefully accept the gift of this feedback and you’ll know whether and how to make good use of it.
If your alpha reader is also a writer, you can offer to return the favor by being the alpha reader for their next writing project. This is really the most important thing fellow writers can do for each other. After incorporating the feedback from your alpha reader, then it’s time to take the next step and have several beta readers provide feedback.
Line Up Several Beta Readers
Beta readers are an important way to get broader, big-picture feedback on your book. They can be friends, relatives, or fellow writers. The idea is for them to read your book as a “casual reader” and then let you know what they thought. These fresh eyes are critical for the next round of revisions you’ll make because they will see all the issues you are no longer able to see because you’re too close to the work.
What you’re looking for is feedback from the perspective of an average reader. You’re looking for their reactions to your book. They should let you know about anything that seemed confusing or wasn’t clear. While a few friends or family members are great to have on board with this, you also want to have at least one beta reader who isn’t from your inner circle because you want to make sure you have someone who you know will be honest and candid your book.
As with feedback from your alpha reader, be grateful for the feedback with the caveat that you won’t necessarily or automatically incorporate all of it. Not all feedback is good useful feedback. But pay especially close attention to any issues raised by multiple beta readers – those are probably the ones you want to consider working on first in your next round of revisions. As you go through the feedback, think about the impact making changes will have on the overall manuscript. Some changes will have a ripple effect that requires additional changes throughout the manuscript.
If your beta readers need some specific guidance on their feedback, you can give them a set of questions to help them focus on particular aspects of your book. Did it flow? Did the pacing keep you engaged? Were there parts where you felt bogged down or confused? Were the characters well developed and consistent? Did they seem realistic and relatable? Was the plot as clear as it needs to be? Was there anything that seemed like it didn’t fit or was out of place?
The key takeaway to keep in mind when writing a book is the importance of finishing your first draft so you can start getting feedback from both an alpha reader and several beta readers. Only after you’ve gone through these phases of feedback and revisions will you move on to more formal rounds of editing and proofing on the road to completing and publishing your book.